All right folks. This is it. The last review of a Hugh Grant movie that I will ever have to write (well, until he makes another one, but I’m not sure what I’ll actually do then). So I’m going to wrap up the Grantathon with a bit about Paddington 2 and then with a highly spurious look back over his entire career, in which I try to pretend that this whole deeply silly project has been building up to something.
It might just be the hype that inevitably comes with having watched every single film somebody has made since the late 1980s but, oh my God, I loved this movie. Although it was a bit weird because, in this movie, Hugh Grant plays a villainous actor whose schemes are thwarted by Paddington Bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) and I’d fairly recently watched A Very English Scandal, in which Hugh Grant plays Jeremy Thorpe, a villainous politician, whose political career is thwarted when he attempts to murder his former lover, Norman Scott, played by Ben Whishaw. There’s even a plot-significant dog in both pictures.
Anyway, this is just a silly, fun movie that—speaking of someone who has no expertise in this area because I don’t have children—feels like one of those kid flicks that was very much written with the awareness that it would be watched by parents and that it had damn well better give them something to hold their attention as well. Thus we get the heart-warming tale of Paddington Bear trying to buy a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy only for said birthday present to be stolen by the evil Phoenix Buchanan and, oh my God, Hugh Grant is loving the shit out this role. At least I hope he is because he’s a fucking joy to watch. He does accents, he wears a series of silly disguises, he sings and dances, and fights a bear. I could not wish for a better film on which to end the Grantathon.
I’ve vaguely run the numbers and you could make a reasonable case that Hugh Grant has been playing people who used to be famous and now aren’t for longer than he was actually famous (if you assume that the peak of his fame ran from Four Weddings and Funeral in 1994 to Love Actually in 2003) while the “guy who was big in the 80s” years began in 2007 with Music & Lyrics and continue to the present day. And it’s even got the point where washed-up-used-to-be-Hugh-Grant Hugh Grant will have scenes where he interacts with an image or a clip for earlier in his career as if it was from the fictional career of the character he’s play – so in The Rewrite, there’s a bit where he watches himself at an award ceremony and it’s clearly a clip of a younger Hugh Grant at an actual awards ceremony and the walls of Phoenix Buchanan’s house in Paddington 2 are plastered with legit young Hugh Grant headshots.
Just to make this the deeply meta and retrospectivey post it was always going to be, I’ll add that I sort of find it ironic that perhaps the single best way to sum up the latter phase of Hugh Grant’s career is a quote from a Hugh Grant movie (I admit, my perception is a bit skewed on this matter by my recent all Hugh Grant die). There’s bit in the infamous brownie scene in Notting Hill where Anna Scott is explaining why her life is not without its own difficulties and it ends with her saying that eventually her looks will fade, and the calls will stop coming in, and one day she’ll just be someone “who looks a bit like someone who was famous for a while.” Which, ironically, pretty much sums up about half the roles Hugh Grant gets cast in these days. And while it’s problematic that, even in the 21st century, male actors get to have that kind of career renaissance where they deconstruct or build on their former persona whereas female actors don’t I really do enjoy Hugh Grant’s “used to be Hugh Grant” films.
Goodness of film: I’m just going to give this a 5 – which feels a bit off because I also gave a 5 to Remains of the Day and I’ve given 4s to films I’m sure were actually better than Paddington II. But, fuck it, my Grantathon, my rules, and I’m on an adrenaline high. But it actually is charming as fuck and I always respond positively to a film that’s got basically every British actor in it.
Hugh Grantiness of film: 5. He’s playing a vain, pompous, foppish actor whose career has gone downhill and he sings, dances, and has a sword cane. Also his agent is Joanna Lumley and while I’m sure his real life is not Joanna Lumley they should be.
And, for the record, I’m very aware that at this point I’m not really doing puns any more. I’m just putting bits of Hugh Grant’s name into other words.
So. Um. Gosh. Well. What a long, strange, Hugh Granty trip its been. I think if I’ve learned anything from this process, it’s that if you watch 37 movies chronicling an actor’s entire career you will quickly come to either really like them or really hate yourself.
Although I started out this project rating all the films out of 5 for Hugh Grantiness I think, looking back, Hugh Grant has played a wider range of roles than he usually gets credit, and I suspect that part of the reason my Hugh Grantiness ratings have crept up recently is that I’m better able to see how the Grant oeuvre can encompass a multiple of styles. Hugh Grant is large. He contains multitudes.
I was going to do a few best and worsts, based purely on what I can remember off the top of my head, so expect to see “things that were recent” and “things I’ve seen more than once” over-represented.
This depends a lot on whether you think a good Hugh Grant film is a good film that features Hugh Grant or a film in which Hugh Grant is good. Like Remains of the Day is amazing, and Hugh Grant is fine in it, but he’s not in it very much. And, therefore, in the spirit of the project, I’m going with “best films in which Hugh Grant is if not the lead at least a major recurring character” (thus also disqualifying Maurice).
Notting Hill has to get a mention because, although I acknowledge it’s problematic, I super duper love it and it’s kind of the Grant-Curtis love letter to an imaginary Britain film that’s aged the best. And with my romance hat on it, I think it plain and simple works as a love story, and does some quite interesting, subversive things.
An Awfully Big Adventure is kind of my outsider pick because it is a weird-arse film but, as I think I said in the review, after I watched it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for a week (and it still occasionally pops up in my head, giving me a moment of profound melancholy). It’s also one of the best examples of Hugh Grant doing a character that’s not at all Hugh Grant, and doing it incredibly well.
Florence Foster Jenkins: obviously I talked about this literally a couple of days so I won’t go into the details. And maybe there’s a certain amount of bias here because I watched it recently but I think it deserves a place here because it ticks so many Hugh Grant boxes and not just in the campy, says gosh a lot say, but in the sense that it’s a complicated character role he can really get his teeth into. It allows him to play a romantic lead, but in a non-standard way. Because the character is a washed up, failed actor it taps into what you might want to call the meta of Hugh Grant. And because he’s playing across from Meryl Steep, who is phenomenal, they bring out the best in each other.
Honourable mentions (and these will literally just be mentions otherwise I’ll write another six paragraphs): Music & Lyrics, Sense and Sensibility
I have disqualified Night Train to Venice from his category because I’m honestly not even certain it qualifies as a film. It is Malcom McDowell in a big coat, and some stock footage, like loads of stock footage, and a child falling off a balcony onto Hugh Grant.
Other than that, in no particular order, my three worst Hugh Grant films are:
Bitter Moon: because, um, this is a Roman Polanski movie that contains a lovingly detailed description of an underaged girl’s vagina.
The Bengali Night: I talked a lot about the race angle in this film and the really problematic way it’s based on a really self-serving memoir that profoundly upset the person it was about. It’s also just a badly made film. Like I know it was the 80s, but the sound was fuzzy, the picture was fuzzy, Hugh Grant’s accent was fuzzy. It’s a fuzzy movie.
Nine Months: and I know this is personal but this is movie is just “1995 called, it wants it’s everything back.” I mean, halfway through I was genuinely missing Night Train to Venice.
Dishonourable mentions: the aforesaid Night Train, Cloud Atlas
Best Worst films
Lair of White Worm: just oh my god. The snakes and ladders scene, the snakes and ladders scene. A really young Peter Capaldi with huge hair. Random nun boobs. So much lingerie. An actual folk rock adaptation of the Lampton Wyrm only they re-named it as the D’ampton Wrym for no reason. Hugh Grant’s dream pencil erection on a plane. Dynamiting a snake. This is perfect film for deciding you should force your friends to watch when you’re drunk at about half one and then you wake up in the morning and wonder why none of them like you anymore.
Sirens: much Australia. very boobs. wow.
The Lady and the Highwayman: Unique amongst Hugh Grant’s filmography, this one contains a fight scene in which he’s actually supposed to be good at fighting. Although, actually, he still fights like Phoenix Buchanan in Paddington 2 (“stage fighting, level four!). Also, it’s an adaptation of a Barbara Cartland novel (oh, why don’t we do those anymore?). Also foxy evil Barbara Castlemaine. Also epic hats. Also Oliver Reed as Charles II. Also hughwayman.
Honourably dishonourable mentions: Did You Hear About The Morgans
All the accents he does in Paddington 2 are actually quite okay and he does several. Yay Hugh.
Discounting the deliberately awful accent he does in Mickey Blue Eyes, where he’s being bad at being Kentucky Irish, I think this one has to go to Champagne Charlie. Where I seem to recall he was sort of supposed to be French but, honestly, fuck knows.
Worst Facial Hair
It’s gotta be Maurice. That moustache haunted me for the entire project.
Controversial opinion here. Although the PM’s dance in Love Actually is iconic, the Lindy hop in Florence Foster Jenkins is fucking spectacular. I would watch it in a gif forever.
Much as I love “I give up, my face is in the butter” from Music & Lyrics, it has to be the first Bridget Jones movie. I mean, this is two middle-aged British men who feel very strongly they should be having a fight right now but have no idea how to go about it. It’s hilarious and delightful. The one is the sequel is a pale imitation.
Honourable mention: one of the few moments I didn’t hate in Nine Months was the one in which Hugh Grants fights badly with a man dressed as a dinosaur.
Given that Hugh Grant is an actor not a singer, I’m actually surprisingly spoiled for choice here. It feels like cheating to pick something from the film in which he plays a legit singer-songwriter but I have to mention that “Don’t Write Me Off Just Yet” is genuinely adorable and “Pop Goes My Heart” is super catchy.
Had I been compiling this list two days, I’d have actually given the top spot to Hugh Grant’s rendition of Killing Me Softly (with his eyes closed) at the end of About A Boy. But then I watched Paddington 2 and Paddington 2 closes with Hugh Grant performing Rain on the Roof from Follies dressed in a pink prison uniform with a chorus line of prisoners and guards.
I just don’t think the world for Hugh Grant Does Actual Fucking Sondheim. Respect.
Most Quintessentially Hugh Grant moment
Okay, this time “I give up, my face is in the butter” is taking it. It’s incredibly British, incredibly silly, dryly funny, and is a consequence of his failing to live up to conventional standards of masculinity while trying to do what’s best for someone.
Most Surprising Hugh Grant moment
Despite the aforesaid Actual Fucking Sondheim, I think coming out of Four Weddings and a Funeral to see Hugh Grant sneering and covered in his own vomit as Meredith Potter in An Awfully Big Adventure was genuinely eye opening. Up until that point, he’d either been in fairly minor roles, basically terrible roles or classic Hugh Grant roles. So it was the first time in this project I got to see how good he could be as a character actor.
Most Romantic Hugh Grant moment
I’m sorry, Don’t Write Me Off Just Yet, you’ve been piped at the post yet again. Because I’m actually giving this one to the scene where Edward Ferrars proposes to Elinor at the end of Sense and Sensibility. Both characters have been profoundly constrained by duty and circumstance and propriety for the entire film, so suddenly seeing them free to express emotions to each other, and have those emotions reciprocated is incredibly powerful. Also I really like Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars – it’s a very Hugh Granty role but I think he brings a lot of depth to a character who can easily become a bit of a cipher.
Hugh Grant film with lowest Hugh Grant content
Not counting, Travaux (Housewarming), a 2005 French movie in which Hugh Grant has a very brief cameo, essentially as himself, right at the end, which I decided to edit out of this because he’s not strictly playing a character in it. This one goes to White Mischief where he plays a named character, confusingly if I recall correctly, named Hugh, who appears in the first five and then never again.
Aaaaand. That’s it. Thank you for bearing with me while I watched every Hugh Grant film I could get my hands on. I hope you found it … Hugh Granty?